For the first ten or so years of our marriage, not another human besides me touched the mechanical components of our vehicles. I rebuilt the engine of a BMW 2002 we bought in pieces in boxes; I changed the clutch on our first 2wd Toyota pickup literally in the street in front of our first house; I swapped the engine and transmission in our FJ40; rebuilt the knuckles on our FJ55—many more fairly major jobs besides the gentle but regular tides of normal maintenance.
Mind you, I am most definitely not an expert mechanic. “Competent amateur” would be the highest category with which I’d be willing to label myself. Nevertheless, while we were still in school and then striving to build careers freelance writing, and thus too poor to afford “real” mechanics, I was able to keep our various vehicles mobile.
Things began to change once we started making better money, and changed more quickly once we’d established ourselves as writers, and later when the Overland Expo began to grow so quickly. I found myself in a position in which I actually saved money by taking our vehicles to a mechanic, so that I could continue my main functions in the business. Fortunately, by that time we’d found (and made a dear friend of) a master Toyota mechanic named Bill Lee, someone in whom we could place implicit trust on any mechanical matter. We got to know him as a mechanic at a Toyota dealership, when he rebuilt the engine of the FJ55 we’d just bought that had been traded in. Once he opened his own shop, we didn’t need to think twice when we needed work on the 40 or any of the Toyota pickups we cycled through.
Then the bastard moved. First 250 miles away, then 500, to northern New Mexico. We shipped the FJ40 to him when it was time for a complete powertrain renewal, but for more run of the mill procedures that’s a bit much. So on advice of another friend we took a 2002 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner we had bought for the business to a prominent local shop for a major service.
Something over $2,000 later it was back (and had me reconsidering whether we were actually saving money with this approach . . .). All seemed well, but several months later we decided the Prerunner was just not the right vehicle for what we needed at the Expo, and sold it to a friend of Bill, who needed a solid truck on which to mount a Four Wheel Camper, but who did not require four wheel drive.
Needless to say, Bill gave the truck another thorough going over with his own critical eye—and sent me an email that was disappointing. Checking over what had been done by the Tucson mechanic, he found a $5 generic PCV valve for which we had been charged the Toyota price ($25.56), and a Toyota part—a window master switch—which lists for $403.20 but for which we paid $535.71, not counting labor. Also, the intake boot, which was rotten and torn and should have been replaced, had been “repaired” by wrapping it with electrical tape.
Sigh . . .
Is this what so many vehicle owners have to put up with on a day-to-day basis? Not knowing if your mechanic is trustworthy? I know it’s possible to make an honest living as a mechanic because Bill does so, even in a remote one-horse New Mexican town which is (did I mention this?) 500 miles away from a perfectly decent supply of loyal customers in Tucson.
Trust. Notice that once it has been compromised by a single incident, it is essentially gone? One can be pretty certain that a shop does not overcharge on a factory part just once, or install an aftermarket part and charge a factory price for it just once, or bodge a repair just once. It’s like discovering a lie told you by a friend or business associate. Once you have that proof of duplicity you quite rightfully doubt everything.
Fortunately the diesel mechanic who takes care of our Ford F350 has proven to be not only competent but honest to a fault. But a 50-percent success ratio is nothing to brag about. In the meantime, I wonder if I lodge enough false complaints about Bill Lee on Yelp, he’ll lose business in Farmington and have to move back here?